Caramel-Topped Sweet Rolls
I must confess I have a weakness for caramel, whether it be as a candy, or in the form of a sticky caramel sauce. I wanted to combine caramel with another favorite of mine—sweet rolls—and set about creating in the kitchen. The result is this recipe: rolls filled with brown sugar and warm spices, and smothered with a squidgy caramel topping. I hope you enjoy them as much as my family has!
For the bread dough:
- 1 cup warm water
- 1/4 teaspoon white sugar
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/8 cup white sugar
- 5 tablespoons salted butter, melted
- 1 egg
- 1 cup milk, room temperature
For the filling:
- 5 tablespoons salted butter, softened
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
For the caramel topping:
- 6 tablespoons salted butter
- 6 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- Prepare the bread dough: Pour warm water (around 110° F) into a liquid measuring cup and dissolve the 1/4 teaspoon of sugar into it. Then add the yeast and allow the yeast to activate for 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the flour, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Then add the butter, egg, yeast, and milk to the flour mixture and stir well. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it until it is soft and pliable, and no longer sticky (15-20 minutes). Place the dough in a large, greased bowl, then cover it and place the bowl in warm spot. Allow the dough to rise for 1 hour.
- While the dough is rising, line the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake tins with parchment paper. Put the butter and brown sugar for the caramel sauce in a saucepan so it will be ready to be melted when you need it.
- Once the dough has risen, punch it down and stretch it out into an approximately 18" wide x 14" long rectangle. Spread the softened butter for the filling over the surface of the dough, then spread the brown sugar over the butter. (Make sure to stop just shy of the edge of the dough, as the filling will push out and forward when you roll the dough into a spiral.) Sprinkle the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom evenly over the brown sugar.
- Melt the butter and brown sugar together in the saucepan over medium-low heat. The sugar should be just melted enough to combine with the butter, but still be slightly grainy (it should still have a "sandy" sound/feel as you stir it, and if you taste it, there should still be a slight crunch of only partially-melted sugar crystals). Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and vanilla. Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir it in until it is completely combined with the butter/sugar mixture. Divide the caramel topping evenly between the two cake tins and spread it so it covers the bottom of the tins.
- Roll the dough into a tight spiral (roll from the long end—see photo). Cut the roll evenly into 2 pieces, then cut those pieces in half. Divide each of these quarters into 4. This should give you 16 even pieces; place 8 in each tin (1 in the middle and the other 7 ringed around it).
- Allow the rolls to rise for 20 minutes while preheating the oven to 350° F. Once ready, place both tins on the center rack and bake until golden brown on top, around 30-35 minutes.
- Place the tins on a cooling rack and permit them to cool for 15 minutes in the tin. Then invert the tins onto the cooling rack and remove the rolls from the tins. Gently pull off the parchment paper in one smooth motion and allow the rolls to cool another 5-10 minutes**, then serve while still warm. Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. **If you decide to put nuts on top, add the nuts right after removing the parchment paper so that they will adhere to the caramel.
Photo GuideClick thumbnail to view full-size
Tips and Suggestions
- Make sure to use parchment paper if you have it; it will ensure that your rolls come out of the pan neatly with no sticking.
- The amount of butter used in the recipe adds up to 2 sticks, so if you prefer to soften your butter by leaving it out on the countertop for a bit, that's how many sticks you will need.
- The sugar should still be grainy in the caramel before baking because the topping will continue to cook while in the oven. You want the caramel topping to be soft and pleasantly chewy, rather than hard and likely to stick to people's teeth.
- If you like the taste of salted caramel, sprinkle a little bit of coarse kosher salt or sea salt over the caramel topping once the rolls have cooled.
- You can also add toasted pecans to the top of the rolls if you like nuts on your sweet rolls. I would recommend adding lightly salted toasted pecans after you have turned the rolls out of the pan, so that the nuts will remain crunchy.
- Making these rolls ahead of time? Put them in the oven at a low temperature and allow them to heat a bit before serving, as they taste best warm.